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Aging Europe Chooses Comics over Fascists

Gideon Rachman argues in his latest column that despite tough times in Europe the continent is electing comedians, not fascists, to power. There’s something to the trend he’s identified: it isn’t the 1930s anymore, and we aren’t seeing the rise of thugs and genocidaires (except maybe in Greece). Rachman:

Italy’s regional separatists, the Northern League, emerged well before the economic crisis but did badly in the most recent election. The new force in Italian politics is Mr [Beppe] Grillo and his movement—whose political style is very different from that of the Italian fascists. Mussolini was militaristic and bombastic. Mr Grillo uses humour and informality as his trademarks. It is true that he ridicules the Italian parliament and political class. But he has never rejected democracy as a system.

In fact, modern Europeans seem more likely to react to bad times by voting for a comedian than for a fascist. Mr Grillo is not an isolated example. In Iceland, whose economy was devastated by a financial crisis, the voters elected Jon Gnarr, a stand-up comic, as the mayor of Reykjavik, the capital. Mr Gnarr’s political pledges included a drug-free parliament within a decade.

But there are a couple of caveats. One is that even clowns can cause a lot of damage. As Rachman himself points out, Grillo’s movement could well put Italy on an economic course that would doom the euro.

It’s also less clear that Eastern Europe will avoid the temptations of fascism. Hungary is already experimenting with letting some extremely nasty people close to power, and the Balkans generally aren’t moving toward either democracy or prosperity quite as much as one would like to see. The capacity of the EU to spread democratic values and ideas in the neighborhood or serve as a stabilizing force either to its south or west seems to have been diminished.

One possible big factor in Europe’s transformation has been the absence of kids. It’s normally young people who provide the radicalism, the innovation, the risk-taking that launches great historical movements for good or ill. Europe is too old for anything as vigorous as fascism today. Sitting around and grumbling is about all it is up for.

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